I’m on a Danish train, skipping along the tracks to a place called Vg. A town so tiny, they couldn’t be bothered giving it a vowel. It took about an hour and a half to get there from Copenhagen so I enjoyed the lulling rhythm of the train and dozed. In my jetlagged fog, I imagined I was riding Thomas the Train on the Island of Sodor.
I awoke sleepy and happy at a station full of Danish quaintness and was met by a lovely Portuguese woman in an old beat up steel blue car. She explained that she was the assistant/cook/driver for the teacher training, and that they had hired a Rent-a-Wreck to help with transportation for the month. Then she hoisted my stuff into the back seat and drove me another 25 minutes to the retreat center.
Drifting over rolling hills and fields of wildflowers, occasional windmills and spectacularly quaint Danish cottages, we arrived at the tiny dirt road driveway of the retreat center.
There I was waved to by yellow and purple wildflowers and an army of butterflies. I think from somewhere I heard choruses of “It’s a Small World” and caught glimpses of Disney characters fluttering in and out of the woods.
I could smell the sea, just a few kilometers away (did I just write “kilometers”, ooo, I’m feeling very sophisticated right now), and I realized that no matter how much I might have to do over the next nine days, there was no escaping relaxing in this setting.
When I arrived the students were warm and welcoming and it just kept getting toastier. So many sweet, amazing, accomplished, intelligent, thoughtful people. What is it with Europeans? I know it’s a tired stereotype, but it’s true, they are so mature. Their continent is mature – my culture feels so high school in comparison.
There were people from all over the place, Denmark of course, but also Sweden, England, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Iceland (A sweet reminder of my trip is that I now regularly find Icelandic on my Facebook page). And with 40 people staying in close quarters, I was amazed that there were no big personality dramas, no seething passive aggressive conflicts, easy bathroom awareness protocols already in place, and, in general, not a whole lot of complaining going on.
While the trainees stayed together in a dormitory, I felt perfectly indulged in my private, six by eight foot Trappist monk-like quarters. It had a lovely view of an almost neon green meadow, sparsely populated by big brown cows who seemed to enjoying moo’ing me up in the morning for meditation.
We did the usual yoga training things: lots of pose break down, anatomy, pedagogy, philosophy, practicum.
My first lecture was on history – and unweaving the strands which entangle yoga, Tantra and Vedanta (Hinduism) is a complicated job (and I offer a nod to the help my friend Ramesh has given me in making sense of it all).
Personally, I love the trip – but I realize it can get tedious. Nevertheless there were lots of interesting questions and lots of dynamic, often heated, but always amiable, discussions.
Most of the rest of my workshops were technique-based.
Here I am teaching standing forward fold – Gary Kraftsow’s proprioceptive, hands down the back of the legs version. Watch the chin jut, please.
In the mornings we got up early for kirtan, meditation and asana practice. The center was surrounded by some of the most amazing, lush patches of nettles I’ve ever had the joy of being stung by. The second morning I went out for a little wander after class and heard them whispering to me beneath the breeze, “Your kidneys and brain need us. ”
So I got some rubber gloves from under the sink in the kitchen and snipped a colander full. Then I boiled a huge pot of water and immersed them. The tea was a thick, almost sensual dark green. I felt my jetlag ease.
I mothered the students with it, although they seemed to prefer orange or rosemary tea and “The Bread” – which was amazing and ubiquitous. Every morning we woke up to a small mountain of fresh bread – delivered at hours obscene even for the most ardent yogi, from the retreat center’s bakery. Danish bread is good, Danish yogi bread, divine.
One morning I decided we all needed more probiotics so I found some quinoa and went to work with my friend Cindy Graham’s recipe for rejuvelac. It’s extremely complicated and nuanced: put some quinoa in the bottom of a jar and fill it up with water. Wait three days. Strain. Put in the fridge. Cheap probiotics with an almost beer-like kick.
Fortunately mornings we observed yogic silence until after breakfast – the first day I served everyone rejuvelac I got a few non monk-like mortified glares and a few mouthed, “What is this Lort?” Eventually I got them hooked and by the time I left, the students were lining up to take over the rejuvelac making duty.
One day we took a break from opening our hips and headed to the beach. The air was warm and the sea was still and tepid. Of course, whenever you get a bunch of yogis together at the beach, the resulting goofy posing for pictures is inevitable.
Denmark is famous for washed up Amber but I didn’t come across any – instead I found some fascinating flint stones. Despite the time and energy I spent in Copenhagen shopping for him, my son’s favorite souvenirs from mommy’s trip are those stones that he can make spark and smell like fire.
We also had time for ocean front meditation – possibly the highlight of my whole trip.
I think the highlight workshop was Pranayama 101 – taught by my friend and yogi extraordaire, MJ Glassman. She has a knack for getting adults to act like children. Air hockey anyone? This version involves straws and cotton balls. I probably don’t need to tell you that it’s incredibly silly and makes you think a lot about your breath.
On August 14 we had a crazy storm. Copenhagen was flooded. One of the participants had to go home to check on her house. “My house is okay except for the basement,” she told me, “which is full of, hmm, don’t know how you say it in English. Sh*t and p*ss.”
I never before had thought about sewage being such a handy word.
The storm knocked out internet connection – for 7 days. Now that was a vacation. Which reminds me of legs up the wall. My favorite yoga teacher training break. We did lots of it. It seemed to attract the butterflies who appeared to have a hard time staying outside.
When I teach to people from other cultures I am reminded how yoga transcends our belief systems, cultural values, and even personality quirks. It’s that limitlessness that keeps me coming back for more, wherever I am.